Name: Erin Danford
Hometown: Waxhaw, North Carolina
Major: Environmental Science
Expected Graduation: May 2019
What drew you to your major?
I decided to become an environmental science major because I wanted a career that allowed me to make a difference. I grew up around nature and have always been passionate about endangered species, climate change, environmental policy— you name it. It wasn’t until I took an AP Environmental Science course in high school that I realized there was a career out there that encompassed all these issues, and more. I felt like I had finally found an area that was right for me, and when I visited UNC for the first time, I was so impressed by the Institute for the Environment that I knew this was where I wanted to be. I know that being an environmental science major is right for me, and I have never looked back since!
What has been the most meaningful experience you’ve had at — or related to — UNC?
At the start of my sophomore year, I joined a club called Net Impact, a social entrepreneurship group that helps students find careers in green business. Through Net Impact, I began working on their external project for that semester— consulting with a non-profit called Kay Blada Recycling. Kay Blada Recycling is a non-profit that focuses on reducing plastic waste and unemployment in Haiti through the recycling of plastic bottles. Each day, locals collect plastic off the streets in large sacks, which they bring to Kay Blada. The plastic is then weighed and the workers receive a few gourdes per pound, the equivalent of about five to ten cents. This plastic is then sorted, cleaned, and transported to a plastic company in Port-Au-Prince for recycling, simultaneously providing employment and cleaning up massive amounts of plastic waste. For some, the money they earn collecting this plastic is the only way they can afford to buy daily meals or send their children to school. As soon as I heard about this fantastic organization, I immediately wanted to be a part of it. I have been working with the program’s founder for over a year now, and have produced a promotional video, organized a benefit concert, and even led a project with United Solar Initiative to donate and install $15,000 worth of solar panels for our warehouse in Haiti. I am excited to say the panels will be installed in November, and we will finally have clean power. Working with Kay Blada Recycling has opened my eyes to the change that one person can make with enough effort and perseverance, and also helped me realize that I want to pursue a career in non-profits. It has easily been the most rewarding experience I have had at UNC.
Have you had any jobs or internships related to your major?
As an environmental science major, I’ve had the opportunity to work at the Environmental Finance Center as a student data analyst. As a data analyst, I use data to communicate with utilities in North Carolina about how to set their water rates, making sure they are not too high for their citizens, but also encourage conservation. The EFC is a great place to work as a student; it’s an on-campus, paid position, and the EFC hires students from the Institute for the Environment all the time. Some even stay on to work after they graduate. There are so many opportunities out there for ENEC majors, and if you do your part by networking, the department can help you find a job that’s right for you.
What are your non-academic hobbies or interests?
Outside of school, I am also a part of the Blank Canvas Dance Company and Carolina Film Association. Through CFA, I’ve had the opportunity to make short films, documentaries, and even promotional videos for clubs. My film experience is part of what has helped me get hired at the Environmental Finance Center and also win several scholarships. I guess what I’ve learned is to never underestimate the value of having a skill outside of your major. You never know, it might come in handy someday.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
If I could talk to my younger self, I’d say, “Don’t be afraid to explore a little!” As a high school graduate, you probably don’t know exactly what you want to do with your life, and how could you? Don’t be afraid to take classes you are unsure about, or that don’t exactly fit your major. When I was a freshman, Dr. Gangi recommended I take a geographic information science (GIS) course. I had never even heard of GIS (a software used to do environmental modeling), but I took one course, loved it, and I am now a geography minor. You never know what subjects you might end up loving, so don’t be afraid to try new things.